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She the People
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Posted at 12:57 PM ET, 08/29/2012

Ads address insurance disparity for female service members

A provocative ad campaign has kicked off, coinciding with the Republican National Convention in Tampa.

A pair of commercials hit the airwaves to add another argument to the raging national discourse about women becoming pregnant through non-consensual sex.

 These ads call attention to the law that bans women who are covered by military insurance from using their policy to pay for abortions if they are impregnated as a result of rape or incest.  But these commercials are particularly challenging because they bring U.S. service members themselves to the fight.  

The group is called Stand with Servicewomen, and the ads are slated to run through Thursday in Tampa, Fla.  Attendees of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte will get to see the ads on local television from Sept. 4-6.

In one ad, retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard Jr., a 31-year Army veteran, explains the need to change the law.  “Over 250,000 women have served our country with honor and courage in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Gard says. “Yet our servicewomen are denied coverage for abortion … even if they’re raped. We have an obligation to provide military women with the care their service to our country demands. Women in the military deserve better care. Period.”

A second ad features a trio of female veterans who have recently returned from serving in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Dottie Guy, Kayla Williams and Shannon Clark take turns a line or two at a time to ask that their sacrifice for their nation be remembered when it comes to coverage for reproductive health care. 

Their script reads: “As a soldier in Iraq, I put my life on the line to protect and defend my country. I fought for the freedom and justice our country stands for. Yet I’m denied proper reproductive health care benefits; denied abortion care even if I’m the victim of rape. I expected the horror of war in Iraq – but I expected better from my own government.” 

Frankly, these American heroes make a strong point.  They’re bringing the case to the American public that if supporting the troops is a priority, the troops are making a recommendation on how to help protect the 15 percent of the U.S. military who are female.

Women in the military are the only class of women under federal health insurance who aren’t covered in case of rape or incest.  Even a female prisoner is covered should her sexual attacker leave her pregnant. Federal insurance coverage is available only if a woman’s pregnancy endangers her life.

As the law stands, a girl who is impregnated by a male relative, if she relies on coverage from a parent’s military health insurance policy, will be turned away for an abortion unless the procedure is paid for out of pocket.

If federal government employees, their dependents and even convicted prisoners are granted coverage for terminating a pregnancy that results from rape, why are female veterans and military dependents denied? 

Even the staunchest abortion opponent must admit that this is an unfair and unjust standard.

The Senate Armed Services Committee agrees that there’s a problem with the status quo. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)  introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would repeal the ban on abortion coverage for servicewomen who have been raped.  The amendment was adopted on a bipartisan vote.  But the measure never made it to the Senate floor for consideration.

It’s a point of pride for the American people and the politicians they elect to talk of supporting the troops.  Unless that talk is actively supported by legislation and policies that address the needs of our nation’s defenders, the “support our troops” ribbons and platitudes carry no real meaning.

One might argue that the burden faced by a woman who is raped while serving in the U.S. armed forces is great enough to warrant special consideration.  Congress already requires the Department of Defense to submit an annual report on sexual assault in the military.  The Coast Guard is exempted from reporting because it exists under the Department of Homeland Security.  

Women in the military report their rapists at rates below that of civilians.  And non-military women already tend to underreport rapes.  Anu Bhagwati, former Marine Corps captain and executive director of the Service Women’s Action Network says there is such massive underreporting because “victims do not feel the climate is safe to report, and perpetrators are not being brought to trial in sufficient numbers."  

Military advocates say servicewomen who suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from being raped must adhere to a standard higher than other PTSD suffers.  She must absolutely prove that her disorder could not have come from any other source or her insurance benefits won’t cover her treatment. Not to mention that an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy could derail the career trajectory of a female military service member. 

This ad campaign seeks to get attention about the timely rape and abortion issue.  But what it also does quite well is to let the troops ask for what they need.  And they’re asking both parties’ conventions for consideration.  It was a bipartisan effort to support the Shaheen amendment, and both parties agree that troops should be heard and their needs addressed.

These servicewomen lay down their lives to defend American freedom.  It’s high time that Americans of all political persuasions support them with laws that treat these heroes with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Jamila Bey hosts the “Sex, Politics and Religion Hour: SPAR with Jamila” on the Voice of Russia Radio network.

By Jamila Bey  |  12:57 PM ET, 08/29/2012

 
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